01/21/2021, 12.23
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Racism and marginalisation of minorities in Punjab school textbooks

by Shafique Khokhar

Prof Anjum James Paul writes to Prime Minister Imran Khan to denounce a new example of intolerance. A dialogue in a middle school textbook is at the centre of a controversy. But “there are hundreds of examples,” Prof James warns. Students must be taught “humanity, ethics and moral values”.

Lahore (AsiaNews) – Racism “is a crime against humanity, it is the enemy of pluralism, peaceful coexistence and harmony in society,” writes Anjum James Paul, president of the Pakistani Minority Teachers Association (PMTA) a letter addressed yesterday to Prime Minister Imran Khan, denouncing a new case of discrimination in school textbooks.

“Pakistan’s foreign policy has always condemned racial discrimination, but unfortunately it still exists in our country,” he adds. “The religious identity of minorities matters as much as that of the majority” and for this reason every form of racism and marginalisation must be “fought”.

In this case, a middle school textbook is at the centre of a controversy, but “there are hundreds of examples,” warns the educator and activist from Faisalabad.

The offending words had a wide echo on social media, sparking anger and pain in the Christian community according to which this attitude is now rooted in a part of the population and is instilled in school to new generations of pupils in Punjab.

On page 155 of an Urdu language middle school textbook (pictured) distributed by the provincial government of Punjab, the following dialogue can be read:

Nasir: I have brought a dish of sweets for your guests

Girl: But who is that black boy?

Nasir: He is our neighbour, Joseph, who is my friend

Girl: I don't like to eat anything from black people

Nasir: Oh Saima, what are you talking about. We have to see the inner beauty of a person. This is what Allah’s beloved Prophet Muhammad taught us.

This is just one of many examples from recent years. Activists, experts and human rights groups have long underlined that racism and confessional hatred must be opposed from an early age and that peace and integration must be promoted in school classrooms, starting with the youngest.

In this context, a crucial role is played by school textbooks which, in too many cases, are themselves the first to sow divisions and promote intolerance.

Mariyam Kashif Anthony, a teacher and human rights activist from Karachi, stresses the urgent need to “counter” hate speech in textbooks. “As a teacher my priority is to teach my students about humanity, ethics and moral values ​,” she said.

Many associations share such concerns, including the Pakistani National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP), which has long been involved in this area.

From 2011 to 2020, Christian experts point out, a climate of hatred seem to have increased and episodes of intolerance have multiplied, despite the appeals and demands for greater attention to the material published for students, especially the youngest.

On a positive note, some programmes have been inclusive, regarding national heroes from religious minorities, such as Air Force Group Captain Cecil Chaudhry, a Christian.

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